A long-awaited grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was released Tuesday in an interim redacted form. The report detailed decades of alleged misconduct and cover-ups in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses.
The roughly 900-page report, not including exhibits, is thought to be the most comprehensive of its kind and paints a horrid portrait of activity that occurred in the dioceses of Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie and Pittsburgh, implicating 300 “predator priests” statewide who committed “criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct.”
One priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg abused five sisters in a single family. Another, in the Diocese of Greensburg, impregnated a 17-year-old girl, married her, then divorced her months later.
A priest in the Diocese of Erie admitted to assaulting at least a dozen boys, yet was later thanked by the bishop for “all that you have done for God’s people.”
The grand jury said it reviewed a half-million pages of internal church documents and “secret archives” that were readily available to bishops. It found credible allegations by more than 1,000 victims, but it added, “We believe that the real number … is in the thousands.”
The findings revealed a pattern of abuse that occurred in hundreds of parishes in 54 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties going back at least 80 years. It detailed how fellow clergy members conducted shoddy investigations into sexual abuse allegations and how bishops often sided with abusive priests.
“The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up,” said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday. He described a “systematic cover-up” and a “failure of law enforcement.”
The at-times-scathing report described a pattern of abuse that has never been seen “on this scale.”
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”
The report counted 41 “predator priests” in the Diocese of Erie, 37 in Allentown, 20 in Greensburg, 45 in Harrisburg, 99 in Pittsburgh, and 59 in Scranton.
Abuse in the Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses have been covered in previous reports.
The report noted that the state was not immune from the global sex abuse scandal in the church, saying, “For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
The interim report was released just before the 2 p.m. deadline the state Supreme Court gave its appointed special master to sort out disputes regarding the redactions.
A majority of the activity described within the scathing investigation falls outside of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for sexual crimes, and those clergy members both named and currently blacked out of the report are not expected to face criminal charges.
But the grand jury issued presentments against a priest in the Greensburg Diocese and a priest in the Erie Diocese, who it said had sexually assaulted children within the past decade.